The Drug Controller General of India has approved, in the first phase, the Covishield vaccine produced by the Serum Institute of India, and Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin, for ‘emergency use’ to combat the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. Third phase trials of these vaccines will continue in the meanwhile. The DGCI is the organisation most capable of taking this decision. The vaccine doubters are not having it, though, and are already expressing their opposition to the decision in various ways. Akhilesh Yadav, leader of the Samajwadi Party, hit the headlines first by declaring he would not get vaccinated as it is ‘a BJP vaccine’ and, therefore, not to be trusted. It does not concern him how silly it sounds because he was basically addressing his voters who have opposed vaccination for a number of reasons – that it would make people impotent; it contains pig fat; it is a great conspiracy to genetically weaken certain people, etc. Being an influential ‘politician’ in UP, he has provided moral justification for people to oppose government’s vaccination efforts, opening another front against the actual target, PM Narendra Modi.
The Congress, initially, opposed this attitude, but, has since then come up with a more nuanced approach, articulated by the likes of Jairam Ramesh and Shashi Tharoor. Along with the ubiquitous NGOs that operate in every sphere, they believe that the decision to launch these vaccines is ‘too hasty’ because the third phase trials have not been completed. That the process of producing and approving vaccines, which usually takes several years, has been also accelerated in the developed countries, does not seem to concern them. They are programmed to consider Indian products and processes as fundamentally inferior.
This is does not mean that there are no dangers in using the vaccines. There always are. Legal issues have to be worked out also. But, the government has to decide on whether to allow the present possibly avoidable deaths to continue in the expectation that the virus will die out by itself, and hope there will be no future spike or spread of a more dangerous variant, or take the chance on the vaccination programme. It must not be forgotten that economically, too, a speedier recovery is warranted. It must not be forgotten that there are sections of society such as the frontline workers and the highly vulnerable that are in urgent need of protection.
So, the political lines have been drawn. It need not have been. Now, if the vaccination programme succeeds, the credit will go entirely to the government. The opposition hopes it will have the opportunity to say, ‘We told you so’. What are the odds?